Our last day in Istanbul was spent for a leisure boat cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. For 1.5 hour’s time, boat took us from the pier of Eminonu to the village of Anadolu Kavagi where the Bosphorus Strait met the Black Sea. For the entire 31km journey, the boat sailed along the European side of Bosphorus. Our boat left Eminonu at 10:30 sharp. The first half was an exciting journey through the city of Istanbul, sailing under gigantic bridges, passing by luxury palaces and historical mosques. The boat made a few stops at different neighbourhoods in the city, until fishing villages and small suburban communities gradually took over. The entire journey was like going through a collection of postcards unfolding into an hour of motion picture. The experience reminded us of the last scene in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant, where the protagonist sits by the Bosphorus watching the busy boat traffic passing by.
“To be traveling through the middle of a city as great, historic, and forlorn as Istanbul, and yet to feel the freedom of the open sea – that is the thrill of a trip along the Bosphorus. Pushed along by its strong currents, invigorated by the sea air that bears no trace of the dirt, smoke, and noise of the crowded city that surrounds it, the traveler begins to feel that, in spite of everything, this is still a place in which he can enjoy solitude and find freedom.” Orhan Pamuk
Our boat left the pier at Eminonu as we bid farewell to Suleymaniye Mosque and Yeni Cami (New Mosque) in Fatih.
At the opposite side, the Galata Tower dominates the skyline of Karakoy.
We soon left the Galata Bridge behind to embark on our journey of the Bosphorus.
Built in 1820’s, Nusretiye Mosque in Tophane was designed in Baroque style.
Dolmabahçe Mosque (1855) and the modern skyscraper Süzer Plaza form a contrasting picture.
Dolmabahçe Palace was the main palace of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and from 1909 to 1922.
The former Ottoman palace Çırağan Palace has been converted into a 5-star hotel, and hosts one of the most expensive hotel suite in the world.
Locals taking causal breaks at Barbaros Park in Besiktas, with Sinan Pasha Mosque at the background.
Ortaköy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii) and the 15 July Martyrs Bridge forms one of the most iconic scene along the Bosphorus.
Histoical building Zeki Paşa Yalısı stands silently below the shadow of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
Built in 1452, the Rumeli Hisari Fortress near Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was built by the Ottoman during their planned siege of Constantinople.
Apart from historical palaces and mosques, the waterfront of Bosphorus is also dotted with luxury apartments and villas.
There are all kinds of styles for villas along the Bosphorus.
Some villas have been converted into hotels or high end restaurants.
New villas in contemporary style have been constructed along with the traditional ones.
Some traditional timber villas still await for their chance of renovation.
The waterfront of Bosphorus has been popular among the wealthy class of Istanbul for centuries.
Some of the historical buildings were in really bad shape after years of negligence.
Further away from the city, some waterfront areas are occupied by less privilege communities.
Other than tourist boats, the Bosphorus is busy with all kinds of boats.
After the mosques, we found ourselves arriving at a Roman fortress tower. The security guard was kind enough to show us around. When we were done, he suggested we should take a short walk to visit the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II. We followed his instructions to exit the old city and walk for a kilometer or two, before seeing our destination beyond Tundzha River. The Tundzha River was lovely and the surrounding was peaceful. The Complex of Sultan Bayezid II was a unique compound consisted of a mosque, a medical university, and a hospital during the Ottoman era. Nowadays, part of the hospital complex is turned into a museum where visitors can get learn about Ottoman medicine, their medical treatment and long-term health facilities. This hospital complex once treated a wide range of sicknesses, from eye disease to mental illness. It was one of the first mental hospitals that treated patients with music, sound of water, and scents. After the visit, we hopped on a minibus returning to the otogar for our return trip to Istanbul. In Istanbul, we discovered a local eatery at Aksaray called Nederi Urfa. We ordered lentil soup, meat kebabs, pizzas, and dessert, a hearty meal to end the day.
On our way to the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II we passed by a produce vending truck.
The youngest vendors appeared to be the most enthusiastic.
The complex of Sultan Bayezid II stood beyond Tundzha River. Two men sitting at the back of tractor waved at us as they drove by.
At Tundzha River, a shepherd dog appeared from below the bridge, looked at us at a distance, and ran away.
A kid and probably his father were fishing by the Tundzha River.
Near the entrance, we had a brief encounter with a talkative lady.
The scenery of the complex and Tundzha River is quite picturesque.
Built in 1488, the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II contained a medical centre that was in operation for almost 400 years.
Centered of the külliye stands the mosque with a 20.55m dome. The complex is now a museum of the history of medicine, and a tentative World Heritage site.
The courtyard in the museum is a lovely garden. It was here where patients with mental illness were treated with various methods including music, water sound and scents.
The complex offered holistic treatment including medicine and water and music therapy.
Similar to other Ottoman complexes, courtyard and lovely colonnades are essential component of the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II.
Continuous maintenance in the last few centuries ensure the complex is still standing today.
Often compared to his contemporary Michelangelo in the west, Mimar Sinan was the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire. Out of the 370+ projects in his 50-year career, the famous chief architect of the Ottoman Empire considered Selimiye Mosque his true masterpiece. The UNESCO seems to agree on this and granted Selimiye Mosque the status of a world heritage. The huge complex is organized as a külliye, with a wide range of functions managed by the mosque. At Selimiye, Sinan experimented with various configuration of domes, semi-domes and galleries to form an impressive and unified interior bathed with natural light. The famous mosque was even depicted on the Turkish 10,000 lira banknote from 1982 – 1995.
A statue of Mimar Sinan was erected in front of the Mosque to commemorate his architectural achievement.
Instead of a series of small domes, Sinan built a large central dome instead. The size of the dome is similar to the one at Hagia Sophia.
As a külliye, the mosque complex also includes schools, covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library, all being managed under one single institution.
Four identical minarets were erected by Sinan instead of a series of distinctive minarets like many of its predecessors.
At the four corners, minarets point up to the sky.
The interior is dominated by a series of semi domes and the central dome. Lines are symmetrical, simple and elegant.
Just like the Hagia Sophia, celestial windows are provided at the dome base to lighten up the interior.
Supported by eight pillars, the dome is a stunning spectacle from below.
A drinking fountain is housed under a richly decorated structure.
Considered as one of the finest in Turkey, the mihrab is visible from any location in the mosque.
Several circles of lights are suspended over the vivid carpet to provide a warm ambience in the evening.
Close to the border between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, about 240km northwest of Istanbul stands a small city with a big history. Founded by Roman Emperor Hadrian upon an earlier Thracian settlement, Edirne was known as Hadrianopolis in the Antiquity era. After conquered by the Ottomans, the city was renamed to Edirne, and served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1369 to 1453, before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. With Selimiye Mosque, the UNESCO World Heritage site that has been widely considered as the best work of architect Mimar Sinan, and several other impressive mosques and historical complexes, Edirne is one of the most popular excursion destinations for tourists in Istanbul. Taking an early morning bus (2.5 hour) from Istanbul Bus Station, spending a full day at Edirne and returning to Istanbul by a late afternoon bus was exactly how we spent our day.
In the morning, we took the tram and then metro to the main otogar, the main bus terminal of Istanbul where one can catch a bus to any destination in Turkey, and even to neighboring countries. We picked one company (worth the time and effort to check out the options) for Edirne. Bus companies in Turkey come in various prices, comfort and service levels. In general, the buses are clean and pleasant. Our first impression of Edirne, the main gateway city between Europe and Turkey, was pretty laid-back and peaceful. It felt like a completely different world from bustling Istanbul.
Built in 1447, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque is one of the most well known mosque in Central Edirne. With a 24m diameter dome, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque had the largest dome in the Ottoman Empire before the conquest of Constantinople.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque literally means the “Mosque with Three Balconies”, referring to its unique minaret.
Opposite to Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Bath was a public bath designed by Mimar Sinan and completed in 1569. Part of the building was demolished to make way for road construction in the 1960’s. The demolition was ultimately stopped but its damage remains visible today, epitomizing the careless urban planning back in the 20th century.
Completed in 1414, the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) is the oldest mosque in Central Edirne.
The most notable features in Eski Camii are the large calligraphy on the walls.
The calligraphy were created at various times by artists from all over the Ottoman Empire.
Most of the interior decorations dated back to the 19th century.
The Eski Camii is covered with nine small domes instead of one large one.
We managed to walk around the city and explored different streets in the heart of Edirne.
On the streets of Edirne, we bumped into several groups of kids wearing football jerseys.
On our way downhill from Suleymaniye Mosque, we passed by an area full of hardware and toy shops. Then we found ourselves arrived at the famous Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Since establishment in 1455, the Grand Bazaar has been the most popular shopping venue in Ottoman Constantinople. With 91 million annual visitors in 2014, the Grand Bazaar remains as one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul. We spent over an hour in this gigantic covered market (over 50 covered shopping streets). Most shops were selling tourist souvenirs, t-shirts, pottery, jewelries, etc. It was interesting to wander around the maze-like bazaar, a shopping arcade that predates modern shopping centres for several centuries. Similar to all tourist shopping areas in the world, it was impossible to find one-of-a-kind merchandise there. We left the bazaar empty handed.
Several blocks north the Grand Bazaar stands the equally vibrant Spice Bazaar. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar was established in 1660 and has served as the main spice market of Istanbul ever since. Today, the Spice Bazaar has become quite touristy, with souvenir shops mingled with shops selling spices, nuts, sweets and Turkish delights.
The Grand Bazaar is a huge maze of shopping arcade network where tourists may find joy to get lost in.
Today, most shops in the Grand Bazaar are catered for tourists.
Signage in the Grand Bazaar may help tourists to orient themselves if they are familiar with the street names of the neighborhood.
The warm lighting from the shops and the indirect sunlight from the celestial windows make visitors to easily lose track of time in the Grand Bazaar.
In the area near the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, all sort of street vendors and small shops can be found. Gözleme flatbread is a common street food in Istanbul. It is a traditional food made with Turkish yufka dough cooked over a round metal hot dome.
Gözleme is somewhat crispy outside and soft inside. It is simple and delicious.
At the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Turkey has long been a trading hub in the midst of caravan routes. In the past, spices were among the most important commodities in international trading.
Spices have played an important role in Turkish cuisine.
Built in 1660, the Spice Bazaar is one one of the most popular covered market in Istanbul.
Perhaps because of the aroma, colours, and vibrant interactions between vendors and customers, we found the Spice Bazaar much more interesting than the Grand Bazaar.
It is full of surprises in the Spice Bazaar.
Smoking shisha with a traditional hookah water pipe has become a must do activity for tourists in Istanbul. In the Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar, it is easy to find a water pipe.
In the area around the Spice Bazaar, streets are lined with shops selling different merchandises from hardware to toys.
There are several famous mosques worth noting near the Spice Bazaar. Built in 1564 by the famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan, Rüstem Pasha Mosque is well known for its Iznik tiles in the interior.
Outside Rüstem Pasha Mosque, street vendors lined along the small lane.
We were attracted by the busy street scenes near Rüstem Pasha Mosque.
Situated near Galata Bridge, the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque, is another iconic building in Fatih.
Completed in 1665, the Yeni Camii is another great place to admire traditional Iznik tiles.
Like Rome, Constantinople was founded as the city of seven hills. The First Hill was the heart of the ancient capital where the Greeks found the city of Byzantium. For today’s tourists, the First Hill is equivalent to Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, while the Second Hill is dominated by the Great Bazaar. Upon the top of the Third Hill stands Suleymaniye Mosque, one of the most famous mosques in Istanbul. Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, Suleymaniye Mosque was completed in 1557 as the fourth imperial mosque. For Sultan Suleiman, erecting the Suleymaniye Mosque was like building his version of Hagia Sophia of Temple of Solomon. For architect Mimar Sinan, the most prominent architect in Ottoman history who was responsible for at least 374 structures and worked as the chief imperial architect for nearly 50 years, the Suleymaniye Mosque was considered as a fine example of work from his mid-career.
The four minarets of Süleymaniye Mosque are some of the most visible features of historic Istanbul from the Golden Horn.
The ablution facilities for wudu line along the exterior wall of the mosque.
To the right of the main entrance is the mosque cemetery, containing historical tombstones and the octagonal mausoleum of Suleyman and his wife Haseki Hurrem Sultan.
The design of Süleymaniye Mosque was strongly influenced by the Hagia Sophia.
The dome of Süleymaniye Mosque is 53m high and has a diameter of 26.5m, smaller than the one of Hagia Sophia.
A fountain stands in the centre of the first courtyard of the mosque.
The interior space is square in plan. Although simple in design, the white mihrab is undoubtedly the focal point inside the mosque.
Looking north, the skyline of Karakoy across the Golden Horn lies right in front of us.
Suleymaniye Mosque is surrounded by the campus of Istanbul University. We met two university students who were more than eager to chat with us about their beloved city.
Several restoration staff of Suleymaniye Mosque reminded us that maintaining such a huge amount of historical buildings in Istanbul required continuous efforts and techniques of many generations.
After Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, we have decided to get away from Sultanahmet and cross the Golden Horn over to Karakoy District. Spanning almost 500m across the Golden Horn, the Galata Bridge holds a significant place in Turkish literature and culture. Apart from its atmospheric setting and picturesque views, the bridge also represents a physical linkage between the more traditional, imperial and religious Fatih District and the more commercialised and cosmopolitan districts like Galata and Beyoğlu. Walking across Galata Bridge is like crossing the frontier between the old Constantinople and the new metropolitan Istanbul. We ended up reaching as far as Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul and the city’s commercial hub.
At Taksim Square, we went up to a cafe roof patio for a cup of coffee and spent some time to watch trams and people criss-crossing the lively square. On our way back to Sultanahmet we dropped by the vibrant Karakay Fish Market near the Galata Bridge at the Karakoy side. Tourists and locals came for fish sandwiches or seafood snacks. We were too full to get one, and that was probably a mistake. It is hard to believe that such an atmospheric and popular waterfront market doesn’t exist anymore as the market has been demolished and relocated in 2015.
Looking north to Karakoy at the head of Galata Bridge from the Fatih side.
Restaurants below and vehicular traffic and fishermen above make up an iconic scene of the Galata Bridge.
Completed in 1348, the Galata Tower was the tallest structure in Medieval Constantinople, and still continues to dominate the skyline of Karakoy today.
We hopped on a tram of the heritage line towards Taksim Square. The first horse trams in Istanbul began in 1872, and the network turned electric in 1912. The extensive tram network ceased operation in 1966 to give way for other means of transportation. In 1990, a heritage tram line (using old train cars mainly targeted for tourists and nostalgic locals) was re-established in Istanbul and a few years later, a completely modern tram system was built in 1992 and has since then expanded to two modern lines and two heritage lines.
As the most vital transportation hub in the city, the Taksim Square is undoubtedly one of the busiest spot in the city. At the heart of the square stands the Republic Monument, a monument erected in 1928 to commemorate the founding of the republic.
Located at the main commercial heart of Istanbul, Taksim Square is also a popular spot for people watching.
The police force is always present to maintain the security of Taksim Square.
After some people watching and a cup of coffee, we left Taksim Square and returned to the Galata Bridge. Along our way, we passed by some beautiful buildings.
In less than half an hour, we reached Galata Bridge once again. Mainly made up of old and unlicensed market stalls, the once vibrant Karakoy Fish Market right by Galata Bridge was demolished overnight in 2015. A new fish market was built nearby, and understandably many consider the new market less atmospheric.
The bygone Karakoy Fish Market has become part of the neighbourhood’s collective memory.